10/01/2010 : Yeovil Town Blog : The Big Freezes And How They Affected Yeovil Town
10 January 2010 : The Big Freezes And How They Affected Yeovil Town
With the Glovers not having played since December 28th, and having had two matches in succession postponed, and a third game moved in an attempt to stop it being called off, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is an unprecedented situation. Going back through the club's history though, we find that the situation has been far worse, and on one occasion significantly worse.

It's certainly true to say that this winter is the worst that we have seen for nearly 20 years. The odd postponement in football is par for the course, but it's unusual to find more than one game postponed in succession. There are clubs worse off than ourselves though - Rotherham United were featured on the BBC's Football League Show yesterday. They last played a game of football on December 12th, and their home supporters (if you can call the Don Valley Stadium a 'home') last witnessed football on December 5th. The BBC cameras showed the ground still covered in a couple of inches of snow and rock hard underneath.

Naturally we all moan about the loss of football matches, and certainly this winter will go down as a bad one. But there have been worse, and three winters in particular had a particular effect upon Yeovil Town, as well as the country as a whole. In reverse order of severity, here's a look at each one.

Early 1980s including the 1981-82 Season:

During the early 1980s we had two consecutive bad winters that saw three lengthy periods without football - December 1981, December 1982 and February 1983. The December 1981 period was the worst of them, leaving us 21 days without football, and only two matches being played during the month. On December 5th 1981, Yeovil Town had played an away match at Dartford, losing 5-0, but were not to play again until Boxing Day.

On the night of December 7th/8th, sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall combined to hit central Southern England, with Wiltshire and Somerset affected, as 15cm of snow fell. With little advance warning of this, roads and rail transport were affected, and electricity and phone lines were disrupted. When a second wave of snow hit on December 11th, Southern England ground to a halt. Even London, which tends to escape the worst of such weather was left with 25-30cm of snow. A third wave came in on the 13th, and this one really hit the headlines as The Queen was stranded in a Cotswold pub for ... several hours! For other mere mortals, many homes in Somerset lost electricity for five days as a result of the snow bringing down power lines, and yet more snow on the 16th in the West Country did nothing to help that.

Between the storms on the 11th and the 13th, frost hit the UK, ensuring that the snow that had fallen was encased in a layer of ice. At RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, a temperature of -22.6C was recorded on the 12th, rose to -12.1C during that afternoon, and then hit a second low of -25.2C early on the 13th.

Christmas Day was clear but frosty, and down on the South Coast, Yeovil finally managed a game of football on Boxing Day, with a 1-1 draw against Weymouth ending the 21 day run without a game. There were further snow flurries on the 27th, but thereafter things finally began to thaw.

The effect upon the Glovers finances was not good. Between November 28th 1981 and January 1st 1982, they didn't play a single home match, and for a club that was in its own words "on the brink of bankruptcy", the lack of cashflow was crippling Yeovil Town. When Maidstone bid 8,000 for striker Clive Green, the opportunity to bank some money was too tempting, and a player that had scored 76 times in 173 appearances was sacrificed. Further cutbacks included the sale of two valuable houses that were used to house players, the use of private cars instead of coaches for local matches, and a ban on the use of hotels for away matches. The winter of 1981 was not entirely responsible for this, but it was certainly the straw that broke the camel's back.

A further 15 day gap without football in January 1982 merely re-enforced the situation. This time a more concentrated period of bad weather saw towns such as Torquay and Weymouth entirely cut off by snow drifts. Up in Scotland, Grantown-on-Spey in the Highlands recorded a temperature of -26.8C. In professional football, the weekend of January 9th saw the sporting programme decimated. Like the weekend just gone, even by the Saturday morning only 14 matches were left at professional level across the whole of England and Scotland. By this time, Darlington and Rochdale had not played at home for six weeks. At professional level, a total of 182 league and cup games suffered weather-related postponements.

The following 1982-83 season, saw more of the same, although not quite on the same scale from a national point of view. Yeovil still faced two lengthy spells without football - in December 1982 when a 16 day period saw football lost between December 11th and December 27th, followed by another period during February 1983, that saw a 17 day gap between January 29th and February 15th.

Link: Yeovil Town Results For The 1981-82 Season.

Link: Yeovil Town Results For The 1982-83 Season.

The 1946-47 Season:

When the country has just come out of a fairly crippling Second World War, the last thing you need is a heavy winter to compound the problems of rationing of domestic goods. There had already been a cold snap in December 1946, but the major spell of bad weather commenced on January 21st 1947.

Initially, the anti-cyclone that arrived from Scandinavia hit Eastern England, which is probably why Yeovil Town managed to sneak in an away match at Worcester City on January 25th. Thereafter no game was completed until another away match against Exeter City Reserves on February 19th. An attempt was made to stage a home game against Gillingham in the middle of this on February 8th, but it lasted until half time before being abandoned with the score tied at 1-1.

As far as the country was concerned, matters were far more fraught. Coal supplies dried up, which given that this was the fuel used to drive most electricity power stations, the shortage was to cause devastating effects. If you think the scaremongering by various tabloids this winter over gas supplies is concerning, in 1947 the end result was for domestic electricity to be made available for only 19 hours a day, with radio, television, newspaper and magazine publications all scaled down as industrial supplies were limited or cut off. Emanuel Shinwell, the Government's Minister of Fuel and Power, received death threats and was placed under police guard, eventually being sacked as a scapegoat for the way that the country had ground to a halt.

On January 30th, the temperature in Writtle, Essex reached -20C, with -21 recorded in Woburn, Bedfordshire on February 25th. Significant ice floes off the coast of East Anglia presented a hazard to incoming shipping vessels. With factories having to shut down due to lack of electricity, unemployment rose to 4 million people (against a far smaller population than today).

The melting snow created more chaos in March as it introduced floodwater into the equation. The Southern League that season descended into farce, with many teams failing to fulfil their fixtures. A ban on midweek matches and a shortage of fuel made it entirely impossible for some clubs to complete their season - Yeovil eventually managed to on May 26th as the season extended, although Millwall Reserves, who had also entered the London Combination League, found this an impossibility, finishing eight games short of the target. The Southern League deemed all unplayed matches to be 'draws', awarding each team one point in the final table. The Southern League Cup Group stage was also never completed, and the 1946-47 final, which Yeovil had reached, was played against Gillingham as the opener to the 1947-48 season. At Football League level, a total of 140 matches suffered weather-related postponements.

Link: Yeovil Town Results For The 1946-47 Season.

The 1962-63 Season:

Ah, the great daddy of them all. You'll often hear 1963 being referenced as THE winter of all winters, and it's no surprise to find that this is also the worst winter from a Yeovil Town perspective. English weather records that date back to 1659 mark this winter as being the third coldest on file across 350 years of measurements. Its effect upon football was unsurprisingly dramatic.

Cold weather began to arrive in the country on December 22nd, on the day Yeovil played a home game against Chelmsford City, and they were fortunate to have their Boxing Day home draw against Bedford Town take place four days later. That evening, the snow arrived, and Yeovil Town did not play another match for a total of 48 days.

By December 30th, parts of the country suffered snow drifts of over 20 foot, and with freezing temperatures accompanying it, hitting a low of -16C, snow cover was to last for over two months, not helped by several more layers arriving on top. More snow in February 1963 came with a 36 hour blizzard and winds of up to 81mph on mainland England.

In terms of professional football, a total of 385 league and cup matches were postponed. If you think that this season has been bad, by comparison, as of January 10th 2010, we have had 83 league and cup games called off. There is a long long way to go before things get anywhere near 1963.

On January 26th 1963, history was made for two reasons. Only three out of 55 professional football matches took place - a record low that with today's under-soil heating at clubs is unlikely to be beaten. That day was to also create history in that to protect the betting companies from lost revenue from the Football Pools, the creation of the Pools Panel that still sits today came into being.

In Yeovil and the surrounding areas, fifteen foot high snow drifts cut off many of the local villages, and the lack of transport lead to a coal and coke shortage. By mid-January, the old Huish ground still lay under a foot of compacted snow, and the club put out appeals for supporters to come and help clear the pitch. A row broke out in the local press over why the players weren't being made to do this in order to fulfil their wages.

In the end it took until February 12th before football was seen at Huish, and even then it was only a hastily arranged friendly against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic, designed to try to deal with the players' fitness before the season proper finally recommenced on February 16th, with an away match at Romford. It took until February 23rd until a home league match was played against Merthyr Tydfil - a gap of almost two months between competitive matches at Huish.

The end result was unsurprisingly chaos. Yeovil Town ended up playing a total of 24 matches between March 1st and May 9th. The fixture congestion no doubt had an effect upon attendances, with the club's home match against Wisbech in March being watched by the lowest crowd following the end of the Second World War, and gates regularly dropping below 2,000. That was in part due to other issues in and around the football club, but the two month lay-off from football didn't help the situation. It's difficult to believe that it will ever be repeated, but whilst the UK weather over the past few years lurches from one extreme to another, anything is possible.

Link: Yeovil Town Results For The 1962-63 Season.

Longest Periods In Yeovil Town's History Without Football (1945 Onwards):

1. 1962-63 Season : 48 days : 26/12/1962 until 12/02/1963.
2. 1946-47 Season : 25 days : 25/01/1947 until 19/02/1947.
3. 1981-82 Season : 21 days : 05/12/1981 until 26/12/1981.
4. 2009-10 Season : 19 days : 28/12/2009 until 16/01/2010*.
5. 1961-62 Season : 18 days : 26/12/1961 until 13/01/1962.
6. 1982-83 Season : 17 days : 29/01/1983 until 15/02/1983.
6. 1989-90 Season : 17 days : 09/12/1989 until 26/12/1989.
8. 1969-70 Season : 16 days : 10/12/1969 until 26/12/1969.
8. 2008-09 Season : 16 days : 28/12/2008 until 13/01/2009.

This season currently comes in as the fourth longest break without football, but is based on the assumption that next Saturday's away trip to Tranmere Rovers will survive the weather.

Unsurprisingly once gaps of 15 and 14 days are considered, these are considerably more regular, given that it may only require a single match to be postponed in order for this to happen. Therefore gaps in play of less than 16 days have not been listed.

In addition, there has been no significant attempt to look into whether some of the above gaps in fixtures may have been in part caused by postponements due to opposition clubs being involved in FA Cup competitions. For example, in the case of the 2008-09 season 16 day gap, part of this was caused by Scunthorpe United's involvement in the FA Cup Third Round. There was in fact only one weather-related postponement in this instance, with the trip to Bristol Rovers falling foul of a frosty pitch. There is little doubt about the main cause of the postponements during the 1946-47, 1962-63 and 1981-82 seasons, given the effect they had on the country as a whole.

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Comments On This Article
Taff said ...

Excellent article, interesting stuff.

Er, that's it.
11/01/2010 09:06:59

Paul said ...

Enjoyable read.

Looking at the fixtures for 62-63 I was particularly impressed with 4 games in 4 days in April - 3 of them away!
12/01/2010 14:00:56

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